Black Stars brought down to earth
There were no klaxons reverberating around the Ghanaian capital on Thursday evening. No cheering crowds either. Just heads dropped and gazed looks as 40,000 crestfallen fans left the Ohen Djan stadium in a daze. Falling short so close to the final prize is a cruel ordeal at the best of times - and this was emphatically not the best of times.
A little later in the night, the Black Stars imitated their supporters by slipping quickly and quietly onto their coach. The only player willing to share his thoughts with FIFA.com was Andre 'Dede' Ayew, and he was unable to conceal his distress. "This defeat is a real tragedy for us," he said. "The atmosphere in the changing-room was intense and we're all devastated. Looking back at the match straight afterwards, we reckoned we'd done what we needed to do and we created more chances than Cameroon. I'm feeling immensely disappointed. I don't even want to think about the match for third place."
Expecting to watch the semi-final unfold from the bench, the young son of Ghanaian legend Abedi Pele was handed a late starting berth after Laryea Kingston picked up an injury during the warm-up. "It wasn't easy to find myself playing so suddenly," explained Ayew.
"But after a few difficult minutes I started to feel better and better." So much so that he even created his team's best chance with a half-volley 69 minutes into the encounter, only for Geremi to clear off the goalline: "What can I say? That's football. I did what I could and that might have made me Man of the Match, but the defender was well placed so congratulations to him."
Having served up football to savour all throughout the tournament, the Black Stars ultimately seemed to run out of steam against Cameroon. It must have been difficult for their fans to watch, but perhaps it was inevitable after the huge physical and mental strain of their quarter-final win.
When coach Claude Le Roy appeared before the press in the wake of the loss, the usual sparkle had completely gone from his eyes. "I've never felt so sad in my entire career," he said. "I want to congratulate Cameroon and thank all my players. I can't come up with any excuses. I'm just sad for the whole country and I share their pain. We had what it takes to be African champions but it's not going to happen. There you go."
Despite his seat on the Local Organising Committee, former Ghana defender Anthony Baffoe reacted like a fan in the street, meanwhile. "It's as if we've been hit on the head with a sledgehammer," he told FIFA.com. "We were all expecting Sunday's final to be a fantastic party. Whatever happens, it will be a great game, but without Ghana the atmosphere won't be the same. The lads put in a huge effort given how many players were out. This team still has immense potential, though. We need to stay united now and quickly get ourselves back on track in the qualifiers for the next World Cup."
The streets away from the stadium were as packed as ever after the curtain fell on Ghana's challenge, but this time the locals headed for bed in silence. Those who spoke did so without expectation of an answer. "What did we do to God?," inquired one tearful woman to no-one in particular. "We were supposed to lift the trophy." Then, in the distance, the sound of a horn broke out, growing steadily closer until a car hurtled by at top speed, overtaking the rest of the backed-up traffic in a defiant rush to be somewhere. "You can beat us but you can't keep us down. We'll win the competition in 2010."
Even in moments of great sadness, there is always cause for hope.